The importance of money and social class and the place of women in early 19th-century England take center stage in Jane Austen’s beloved last novel, “Persuasion.”
Now a beautiful musical version is on view through Nov. 18 at Lamb’s Players Theatre in Coronado. With a fine book by Harold Taw, excellent music and witty lyrics by Chris Jeffries, this version fits the ideas and characters in Austen’s novel to a T, and the excellent cast sells the story.
Alison Spratt Pearce is Anne Elliot, the 27-year-old still-single middle daughter of widowed Sir Walter Elliot (John Rosen), who has pretty much despaired of marrying off this headstrong woman who is (to his annoyance) much less interested in “marrying well” than in settling down with the right partner.
Eight years before “Persuasion” begins, Anne had met her dream man – the dashing Captain Frederick Wentworth (David S. Humphrey). The feeling was mutual, and they’d agreed to marry. But Anne had allowed herself to be influenced by her status-conscious godmother Lady Russell (Linda Libby) and refused this penniless man on the grounds that he couldn’t improve her (or her family’s) financial standing. So he left Anne and went off to the Napoleonic Wars.
Meanwhile, Sir Walter, a profligate spender, and ceaseless status-seeker refuses to rein in his spending habits, which forces the family to rent the estate and move to cheaper digs in Bath.
Now it’s 1814. Sir Walter has married off his youngest, spoiled daughter Mary to Charles Musgrove, whom Anne had rejected years before.
“Persuasion” offers three eligible bachelors – Wentworth, Captain Benwick (who spends a lot of time spouting depressing poetry) and Sir Walter’s distant nephew William, eventual heir to the Elliot estate (the last two played by Jordan Miller) – and four eligible women – Anne, her vain elder sister Elizabeth (Lauren King Thompson) and the Musgrove sisters, indecisive Henrietta (also played by Thompson) and pretty Louisa (Abigail Allwein).
Got it? Never mind; the central question concerns Anne and whether she will or will not marry her prince. The others are around to illustrate the silliness of upper-crust and wannabe upper-crust behavior.
Director Robert Smyth’s splendid (not to mention versatile) cast has a good feel for these characters and this time. He is aided by a fine tech team: Jeanne Reith’s lovely costumes and Mike Buckley’s easily reconfigured set, Javier Velasco’s lovely choreography; and fine lighting and sound designs by Nathan Peirson and Patrick Duffy.
Chris Jeffries’ score is extraordinary as well, and so deftly inserted into the drama that it feels natural and not a bit tacked on.
Pearce is in her element and terrific as Anne, and finds a worthy comrade in Humphrey’s Wentworth.
Local favorite Linda Libby deftly crosses class barriers in triples roles as Lady Russell, Mrs. Musgrove and Mrs. Harville.
Omri Shein, everybody’s favorite comic, contributes hilarious moments as Charles, especially when asked by Henrietta if he’s up for dancing. “If the alternative is military service,” he quips.
But he’s even funnier as the Elliot family attorney – with one lock of hair drooping over one eye – and again as preening dowager Lady Dalrymple.
Musical director Patrick Marion and his excellent quartet play this lovely score from their crow’s-nest digs at the top of the set.
Austen was way ahead of her time. It’s sad that 200 years later, we still haven’t learned much about what matters, nor about how to treat others.
“Persuasion” will charm and amuse you, as well as giving you something to talk about over coffee.
“Persuasion” plays through November 18, 2018, at Lamb’s Players Theatre, 1142 Orange Avenue, Coronado.
Tuesday at 7:30 pm; Wednesday at 2 and 7:30 pm Thursday at 7:30 pm; Friday at 8 pm; Saturday at 4 and 8 pm Sunday at 2 pm
Tickets: (619) 437-6000 or lambsplayers.org